Five talking points from the first leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United

The first leg of Champions League clash between Real Madrid and Manchester United ended in an enthralling 1-1 draw. Brendon Netto picks out five talking points from the encounter.
 Brendon Netto
 Comment | Europe
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Real Madrid were only able to secure a 1-1 draw against Manchester United at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of their Champions League knockout stage clash. Jose Mourinho claimed that the whole world was waiting for the high-profile clash and now the whole world is talking about it. There were plenty of talking points to take away from that captivating battle but we pick out five points for you to sink your teeth into...

1. Criticized duo of De Gea & Di Maria stood out

David de Gea and Angel Di Maria were probably the most criticized players in either side leading up to this game but the duo were at their best on Wednesday night. Di Maria was a constant threat to the United defense. He ran at Patrice Evra, cut inside and drove through the heart of the defense, had shots at goal and most crucially, switched flanks with Ronaldo to provide the telling cross for the equalizer.

De Gea on the other hand was one of the best performers on the night. He was back in Madrid and it certainly looked like he felt right at home. He produced a world-class save early on to get his finger-tips on Fabio Coentrao’s effort which diverted it onto the post. He then denied Mesut Ozil’s right-footed shot before thwarting Coentrao again in the second half with an unorthodox but spectacular save with his right foot. He did well to hold on to Sami Khedira’s deflected attempt later on in the half as well. His performance on the night proved yet again that he is one of the best shot-stoppers around and established his potential to be great.


2. Phil Jones proved his worth

After his performances against Tottenham and Everton, many expected Phil Jones to line-up against Madrid to provide defensive cover and he did not disappoint. He worked extremely hard to track back and shuttle out to the wide areas to close people down and offer support to the full-backs. When Madrid did try to counter on a couple of occasions, Jones nullified the threat by getting back with pace.

His tackling was excellent and he did pick up Ronaldo when others didn’t. He even tracked him into the six-yard box in front of De Gea’s goal in the final few minutes to deny the Portuguese the chance to turn the ball into the net. Injuries have hampered his progress at United but with performances like this one justifies the hype and indeed the price-tag he came with.


3. Cristiano Ronaldo was immense

You just knew this man would feature on the score sheet and what a goal it was to get him on it! Cristiano Ronaldo was at the center of attention leading up to this encounter and he proved yet again how he flourishes in that situation. He was a constant threat in the first half as he tormented every United defender and his mobility made it impossible to keep track of him at times. A couple of vital blocks from Jones and Rio Ferdinand kept Ronaldo from scoring again.

His goal was simply outstanding. Di Maria’s cross found him at the back post where his leap would have been able to clear Evra’s height times two as he nodded perfectly into the near corner past a helpless De Gea. The hang-time on his jump was simply phenomenal; he was up there long enough for Evra to tie his shoelaces together! (Perhaps the Frenchman should have considered it.) He had a great opportunity from a free-kick in the 84th minute which he seemed to strike perfectly but it only landed on the roof of the net, much to the relief of De Gea.   


4. The Madrid defense is vulnerable

Both defenses have been suspect this season but while United’s remained as compact as possible despite enduring significant pressure, Madrid’s defense was sliced open at an alarming rate. United did not do much attacking but when they did come forward, they got plenty of joy from the hosts’ defense and always looked capable of getting another away goal. A couple of last-ditch challenges from Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane kept the likes of Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa from going one-on-one with the keeper.

The Spanish side looked vulnerable from set-pieces and Welbeck scored from what was United’s first real chance of the game, comfortably brushing aside Ramos in the process. Welbeck came close from a couple of crosses later on while Rooney fired just wide after bringing the ball down from a corner. Van Persie’s movement was always going to earn him a chance against this defense and as it turned out, it earned him two in quick succession.

He initially peeled off Ramos to receive the ball from Rooney before rifling a stinging shot that Diego Lopez could only touch onto the bar before getting another chance as he beat the offside trap to chest the ball down but his scuffed volley was cleared off the line by Xabi Alonso. The Dutchman had another chance in stoppage time when he peeled off to the left and angled his shot to the far corner but Lopez tipped it around the post. The number of chances United created from the few attacks they had exposed Madrid’s defensive frailties for which Ramos was often the guilty party.


5. Sir Alex got his tactics right

Sir Alex Ferguson had only beaten Jose Mourinho twice in their 14 previous meetings but came agonizingly close to improving that record this time around. A draw and an away goal at the Bernabeu will please the Scot but a part of him will be a little frustrated because he’ll know that they could have edged the tie to be in a promising position.

Nevertheless, he can be pleased with the tactics he employed against Mourinho. Deploying Jones in midfield was crucial while starting Welbeck was an inspired selection. The system he employed to contain Madrid was efficient but he also afforded his side some fire power up front. He got them to sit back and defend better in the second half while bringing Ryan Giggs on for Kagawa was a smart choice as it composed the midfield. United operated well on the break and gave a good account of themselves on the night.


What did you make of the game? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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